This was an article that was published in Farrago Edition Eight on 20 October 2015. Farrago has been the student magazine of the University of Melbourne since 1925.
We don’t often stop to think about the origins of many of the brands and companies that we are familiar with. But unbeknownst to many, the logos (and the organisations they represent) that we absentmindedly register as we walk through shopping districts or supermarket aisles may actually have a dark, Nazi past.
Now, this is no moral judgment on these companies. While there is no excuse for the atrocities of the Holocaust, many business owners operating in Germany at the time would have had no choice but to comply with the regime lest they be imprisoned, or worse. Nevertheless, the Nazis and big business were good friends, and many companies performed very well under the Third Reich – until Germany was completely destroyed, of course.
Despite the United States and Nazi Germany being enemies, the Americans were not innocent either. American automative companies General Motors and Ford were massive automobile and military hardware suppliers for the Nazis. In fact, Hitler was such an admirer of the anti-Semitic Henry Ford that he had a large portrait of the businessman next to his desk. Ford also has the dubious honour of being the only American to be named in Mein Kampf. From the peculiar to the horrific, let’s look at familiar corporations that were in cahoots with the Nazis.
Adidas and Puma
Adidas and Puma, alongside Nike, are the world’s most well-known producers of sports shoes. What many don’t know is that the two giant companies were actually founded by brothers who ended up absolutely hating each other. The two brothers, Adolf “Adi” and Rudolph Dassler, were running the Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Company in the Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach. Although both joined the Nazi Party, their decision to sponsor the African-American track star Jesse Owens when he competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, who Hitler snubbed for perhaps obvious reasons, made their shoes internationally known. It was to be the first sponsorship of a male African-American athlete in history.
However, bickering wives and conflicting business ideas meant that the relationship of the two brothers became increasingly strained. During a bombing raid by the Allies on their town, Rudolph famously remarked that “the dirty bastards are back again” as Adi and his wife climbed into a bomb shelter already occupied by Rudolph. While Rudolph was actually referring to the Allies, Adi was convinced that Rudolph was talking about him. In retaliation, Adi arranged to have Rudolph sent to the front, then schemed to have his brother arrested by the Allies on suspicion of working for the Gestapo.
Needless to say, the brothers weren’t too brotherly after the war, and split their company in two. Adi Dassler named his company Adidas after himself, and Rudolph called his Puma. The two companies employed many people in the small town, meaning that the people of Herzogenaurach too became entangled in this bitter feud. Many local businesses served only people that belonged to one or the other, and even marriage to people who wore the shoes of the enemy were sometimes forbidden. While both companies ended up being built into internationally recognised brands, the brothers remained enemies until the end, buried at opposite ends of the same cemetery.
Established in Berlin in 1890, Allianz is today the world’s largest insurance company. With CEO Kurt Schmitt also serving as Hitler’s economics minister, the insurance company was in a fantastic position to benefit from the Nazi government’s actions. Government facilities (read: concentration camps) and public servants (read: concentration camp employees) were all insured by Allianz.
Of course, before the Holocaust many Jews had taken out life insurance policies with Allianz. In the pandemonium of war and genocide across Germany, the officially unaccounted for deaths of many Jews means that Allianz never paid out life insurance for them.
It’s usually quite hard to find an unpleasant story that involves the word ‘chocolate’, but this one is particularly distasteful. While the country remarkably remained neutral throughout the course of the two World Wars, Switzerland had profitable economic ties to Nazi Germany. The Swiss food multinational Nestlé won a lucrative contract to supply the entire German army with chocolate, and employed thousands of Jewish slave labourers and prisoners of war in its German factory. The Nazis used chocolate in obscene ways, such as using chocolate to coax young Jews onto cattle cars that would transport them to concentration camps. A chocolate-coated bomb was also designed, which would detonate seconds after a piece of the chocolate had been broken off. Named the ‘chocolate bar bomb’, they were to be used to kill the British royal family. The Nazis also designed exploding cans of peas for the same purpose, with four being intercepted in Ireland. Why the Nazis believed that British royalty would personally open cans of peas remains a mystery.
Ever wondered why Sunkist always tasted better than Fanta? It may be because Fanta was designed specifically for the Nazis. The story begins with the German division of The Coca-Cola Company. Due to impending war, Allied trade blockades hampered imports into Nazi Germany, which included vital ingredients for Coca-Cola like corn syrup. Max Keith, the head of the Coca-Cola Deutschland, invented a new drink and named it Fanta, a shortened version of the German word fantasie, meaning ‘imagination’.
After the war, Fanta was discontinued. However, The Coca-Cola Company later relaunched Fanta to combat the rise of Pepsi, who was introducing many new types of drinks to the market while Coca-Cola had until then only sold the same drink. In February this year, a special edition of Fanta was released in Germany to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the drink. Controversy was caused when a television commercial was aired saying that Fanta wanted to bring back the “feeling of the Good Old Times”, which many scandalised Germans interpreted to mean Nazi rule.